The best books offering ideas to explore

Who am I?

I am a lawyer, law professor, and author of legal history books. Mostly, though, I have much to learn. Importantly, then, I believe in the possibilities of learning. But how? Teaching, in the transitive sense of cramming something into another person's head, is impossible; yet learning is infinitely possible. Ideas are what excite us to learn. In widely varied ways, I have found engaging ideas in—and have learned importantly from—each of these books.

I wrote...

Keep the Wretches in Order: America's Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW

By Dean A. Strang,

Book cover of Keep the Wretches in Order: America's Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW

What is my book about?

Courts and criminal enforcement are designed first and foremost to control outsiders and the unwanted. As America entered World War I, many of those were labor agitators and other radicals. Here’s the story of a transformational mass trial, and massive injustice, that mostly destroyed a radical and fascinating union and that formed the Justice Department we know today. Gripping and tragic, the book features equally compelling lives of both the famous (Big Bill Haywood, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and others) and the forgotten. The author is a well-known lawyer and law professor whose absorbing work and storytelling engages anyone interested in exploring injustice and the complex relationship between the rule of law and the ideal of justice.

The books I picked & why

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Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force

By James Boyd White,

Book cover of Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force

Why this book?

In my view, the capstone work of a preeminent scholar of law and the humanities. Explores the ways in which language—specifically, but not exclusively, of lawyers—works in one of two ways. It either is shaped by, and in turn shapes, authoritarian, reflexive, cliched, unthinking, and ultimately inhumane ways of life. Or, alternatively, it promotes thoughtful dialogue, respect for the reader or listener, critical thinking, and humane values. The former pattern of speech is deadening and itself dead; the latter is enlivening and alive. This insight, from a lifetime of thinking about language, gives White his title, Living Speech. The book reflects such a humane, educated, and generous mind, and is so fresh in some of its arguments, that I can say this without overstatement: it is one of very few books that has changed the way I look at my work and, more importantly, at any polity or community.

Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force

By James Boyd White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Living Speech as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Language is our key to imagining the world, others, and ourselves. Yet sometimes our ways of talking dehumanize others and trivialize human experience. In war other people are imagined as enemies to be killed. The language of race objectifies those it touches, and propaganda disables democracy. Advertising reduces us to consumers, and cliches destroy the life of the imagination. How are we to assert our humanity and that of others against the forces in the culture and in our own minds that would deny it? What kind of speech should the First Amendment protect? How should judges and justices themselves…


The Racial Contract

By Charles W. Mills,

Book cover of The Racial Contract

Why this book?

A brilliant, and to my mind greatly persuasive, critique of the entire world as it has been since roughly the 16th century. With a great grasp of the traditional branches of contractarian philosophy (think, emblematically, Locke on one hand and Rawls on the other), Mills describes a different social contract among white people that fixes all others as sub-persons. He argues that, while certainly not all white people are signatories to that implicit contract, white people all are beneficiaries of it to some extent. The book's sophistication is enhanced, never diminished, by the confident accessibility and humanity of the writing.

The Racial Contract

By Charles W. Mills,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Racial Contract as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Racial Contract puts classic Western social contract theory, deadpan, to extraordinary radical use. With a sweeping look at the European expansionism and racism of the last five hundred years, Charles W. Mills demonstrates how this peculiar and unacknowledged "contract" has shaped a system of global European domination: how it brings into existence "whites" and "non-whites," full persons and sub-persons, how it influences white moral theory and moral psychology; and how this system is imposed on non-whites through ideological conditioning and violence. The Racial Contract argues that the society we live in is a continuing white supremacist state.

As this…


No Name in the Street

By James Baldwin,

Book cover of No Name in the Street

Why this book?

A key work in the last part of Baldwin's life, as he was reassessing everything after the murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and others in 1965-68. The reader can sense the aching effort Baldwin makes to retain hope and his sense of the worth of engagement with a world that so often rejected the essential him. Letting us, as his readers, into that doubt and pain and torment was an act of great honesty and, at bottom, love. Very few people could use the English language as powerfully as Baldwin (and he could do it in both spoken and written word, which puts him in a smaller group still). This book is a reminder of that power, too.

No Name in the Street

By James Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked No Name in the Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An extraordinary history of the turbulent sixties and early seventies that displays James Baldwin's fury and despair more deeply than any of his other works, and powerfully speaks to contemporary conversations around racism.

"It contains truth that cannot be denied.” — The Atlantic Monthly

In this stunningly personal document, James Baldwin remembers in vivid details the Harlem childhood that shaped his early conciousness and the later events that scored his heart with pain—the murders of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, his sojourns in Europe and in Hollywood, and his retum to the American South to confront a violent America…


A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Why this book?

The most enjoyable work of fiction, and structurally the most nearly perfect novel, I have read in well over a decade. Maybe two. This book overflows with humanity, and with an underlying optimism about human beings. Yet, with no disrespect to beach reads, it is much more than fluff we pick up when we need a break. This is a book to keep long after you have read it. For myself, I well may read it again in time. 

A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked A Gentleman in Moscow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The mega-bestseller with more than 2 million readers, soon to be a major television series

From the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Lincoln Highway and Rules of Civility, a beautifully transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and…


Comparing Impossibilities: Selected Essays of Sally Falk Moore

By Sally Falk Moore,

Book cover of Comparing Impossibilities: Selected Essays of Sally Falk Moore

Why this book?

A wonderful introduction to, or return visit with, a strikingly interesting and groundbreaking legal anthropologist. Moore's writing is clear and confident, and her thinking fascinating. This book is, to my mind, an invitation to undertake again, at any time, the joys of being a student. Why? She models so well the curiosity, care, and rethinking that are the essence of being a student.

Comparing Impossibilities: Selected Essays of Sally Falk Moore

By Sally Falk Moore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Comparing Impossibilities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few scholars have had a more varied career than Sally Falk Moore. Once a lawyer for an elite New York law firm, her career has led her to the Nuremberg trials where she prepared cases against major industrialists, to Harvard, to the Spanish archives where she studied the Inca political system, and to the mountain of Kilimanjaro where she studied the politics of Tanzanian socialism. This book offers a compelling tour of Moore's diverse experiences, a history of her thought as she reflects on her life and thought in the disciplines of anthropology, law, and politics.
The essays range from…


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Interested in James Baldwin, Moscow, and humanities?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about James Baldwin, Moscow, and humanities.

James Baldwin Explore 16 books about James Baldwin
Moscow Explore 39 books about Moscow
Humanities Explore 12 books about humanities

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